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Securing the Kernel Stack

Filed under
Linux
Security

The Linux kernel stack is a tempting target for attack. This is because the kernel needs to keep track of where it is. If a function gets called, which then calls another, which then calls another, the kernel needs to remember the order they were all called, so that each function can return to the function that called it. To do that, the kernel keeps a "stack" of values representing the history of its current context.

If an attacker manages to trick the kernel into thinking it should transfer execution to the wrong location, it's possible the attacker could run arbitrary code with root-level privileges. Once that happens, the attacker has won, and the computer is fully compromised. And, one way to trick the kernel this way is to modify the stack somehow, or make predictions about the stack, or take over programs that are located where the stack is pointing.

Protecting the kernel stack is crucial, and it's the subject of a lot of ongoing work. There are many approaches to making it difficult for attackers to do this or that little thing that would expose the kernel to being compromised.

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